During a recent visit to Namco at County Hall in London to see the new Mariokart VR installation (previously at the 02), I noticed a bona fide Beat Saber standalone arcade machine.
I’d read about these online but never expected to find one in London; of course I had to give it a try!
After pushing several pound coins into a slot on the front right side, it all came to life with an electric whirring noise as the HTC Vive headset and wand controllers lowered on a special motorized array.
It looked like something from a transformers movie or cyberpunk game, perhaps a real world example of the matrix now available at your local arcade!
Getting into the headset was a little tricky because it was attached with 3 armoured cables which resisted my efforts to pull the headset down.
Once fitted I tried to set the IPD but found it fixed, one less thing to go wrong; I guess they set it on an average IPD of 64mm.
Grabbing the Vive wands I navigated through the menus see selecting a familiar track by KDA “popstars” and setting expert mode.
It was fun to be back in Beat Saber, but also strange being restricted by the 3 cables connecting the headset to the gantry above, and to a lesser degree by thinner cables to the controllers.
I’m used to be tethered on PCVR but this was different and felt perhaps more like a piece of gym equipment?
Whereas in comparison on my Valve Index I can happily dance about very freely / badly with its wireless controllers and 5 metre long thin headset tether which sits on the floor behind me.
Movement here took extra force to overcome the drag I was feeling from the cables making me work harder to hit the right moves; timing was challenging but I quickly learned to compensate especially trying to move sideways
I reached the end of the song with B grade, removed the headset and watched with fascination as the entire apparatus lifted back up into the overhead gantry ready for the next player.
At this point I noticed a plastic bracket or hinge piece was broken and not doing whatever it was supposed to be doing making one side of the headset mechanism to slump; this may have contributed to extra drag in the tethering system?
I alerted the supervisor who immediately shut the machine down, I then noticed I hadn’t used any wipes or santising products before starting! Set several feet further back in the dark on the walls either side of the machine, was a hand santising dispenser and an empty box of wipes. The message at the start now made sense…
Impressive stuff despite the movement restriction, which was the result of an ingenious solution to create a standalone unsupervised VR arcade machine. It certainly would be huge fun to play in a shopping centre or airport and could tip someone into purchasing a home VR system.
Satisfied with the self-service Beat Saber standalone arcade experience but keen to try again once repaired, I went off to find the bathroom and give my face a good wash.
I needed to travel to Milton Keynes for a family gathering but managed to sneak in a visit to Vertigo VR which is located next to the Central shopping centre.
Arriving early, I had a good look at the building which was quite substantial, the VR centre seemed to occupying the entire upper floor.
Soon enough the doors opened, as the first visitor I had the place to myself so had a good look at the artwork across the walls.
Heading upstairs I found the staff behind a bar, and bought some tickets to try out the solo experiences.
I started with a funfair ride simulator hosted on a standing motion platform and using Rift CV1. The ride was a platform on a long arm lifting me about 100 feet into the air before swinging back down, above a carpark.
This was brutual with the simulator almost flooring my legs everytime the ride swung around, I managed to hang on (for life!) until thankfully it ended. Probably not one to try again…
The second experience was slightly more tame, taking place inside what looked like a space pod from the 1970’s. The experience itself involved rapid flight with lots of banking and turning around big buildings in a city.
I enjoyed this much more than the funfair simulator, and had a long session until a family member arrived, thankfully they agreed to try VR for the first time so we booked a multiplayer session in the HTC Vive booths at the rear of the venue.
We had a great session across several games ending with cooperative mode Arizona Sunshine – the first time I’d tried it, it was awesome protecting each others backs as the zombie horse advanced.
Soon enough, our time finished; thanking the staff we walked away talking about their first experience of VR (basically a wow!)
Following my first visit to Raindance in 2018, I was keen to go again and waited patiently for the organisers to open up their website ticketing for the 2019 event.
It was tricky working out which experiences to visit during each timeslot so I tried different combinations until I had a full day of experiences booked for the final Sunday.
The venue was the same at The Oxo Tower in London, it felt comfortable to be back at a familiar venue as I walked up the stairs.
After signing in I received an armful of coloured wristbands and a programme of events with a floor layout showing where each of the experiences were located. The event was starting to fill up with guests eager to get into VR.
I started off with “Gloomy Eyes” on the HTC Vive Pro Eye headset, my first time seeing one or using one since HTC launched the new model.
With the eye tracking inoperative it was the same Vive Pro I’m familiar with, generally a decent headset with a robustness ideal for public or enterprise use where they don’t always get well treated!
The experience itself was very…gloomy…but very cinematic and awe inspiring. Hopefully it will get a home release very soon!
I was getting some light leakage at certain angles due to the large windows facing the River Thames, so tried to find a better pose in which to enjoy the experience. I was glad to be using an OLED display headset as it was very dark inside Gloomy Eyes.
After Gloomy Eyes, I tried more experiences, all using Vive Pro Eye.. they were everywhere at the festival alongside some older headsets.
Doctor Who: The Edge of time was fun though I managed to get snagged in some virtual scenery which prevented me completing the demo.
No man’s Sky VR was my next experience, I failed to get out of the crater before being irritated as I grappled with the Vive wands. 🥴
My final experience from my first session was “The curious case of the stolen pets” which was on the new Oculus Rift S; a headset I’d not been available to demo anywhere in London.
This was a great opportunity to see how different it was from the Rift CV1 which I’d owned in the past, it was reportedly using the single display panel (overclocked) and new Fresnel hybrid lenses from the Oculus Go.
The fixed IPD and lower refresh rate (80hz) were something that had concerned me, though my IPD at 63.5 was right in the sweet spot with the lenses proving Oculus’s prowess with lens design (often requiring a lot of ray simulation involving a supercomputer).
I was initially impressed with the Rift S, the display was clear with minimal screen door and the lenses were clear of artifacts. The experience was very fun with a large puzzle I spun around as I tried to rescue the pets, I solved the first two before running out of time.
However after months of using the Valve Index, the lower 80hz frame rate on the Rift S was very noticeable and felt sluggish in VR.
It didn’t give me a great feeling of presence, partly the lower frame rate and partly the smaller FOV, which felt like scuba goggles again after Index and actually seemed slightly smaller than CV1.
The Touch insight motion controllers worked well, but felt a bit creaky and unbalanced compared to the sublime Touch CV1 controllers which perhaps shall remain the gold standard.
Overall the Rift S felt like a sidegrade in some ways with steps forward and backwards, certainly very good value at £399 although the frame rate remains a concern – 90Hz should be the minimum for PCVR with Index proving 120Hz the new standard.
As my first session finished I felt very satisfied having tried the Vive Pro Eye and Rift S, but these were quickly forgotten when it dawned on me that my next session was using something even more rare, that I didn’t think would be available to demo.
“Rise of the Animals with David Attenborough” immersive AR experience on the Magic Leap was awaiting, of course I needed to have a really good look at the hardware 🤯
After looking very thoroughly at the entire kit, it was time for my first Magic Leap AR experience.
The lady running the experience helped me fit the Magic Leap on my head, I hung the compute unit belt on my shoulder but didn’t need the remote as the hand tracking was being used.
The experience was…. very impressive. I’d read so much negatively and poor reviews about Magic Leap I wasn’t sure how it would work and how effective it would be?
I’m not going to spoil the experience itself with any spoilers; the field of view was limited (as many had mentioned in reviews) but serviceable, the 2 depth focus planes were very welcome after several years of fixed focus VR headsets.
I had dinosaurs crawling about everywhere in a huge space so I went wandering about following the creatures…much to the amusement of the other guests!
Overall I was impressed with Magic Leap which gave a really good impression of how powerful AR can be once the technology develops.
It certainly got me moving about and using the entire space, the image quality was good and effective. Environmental tracking and hand tracking also impressed. I’ve used Hololens in the past, recently only a week before Raindance, and thought Magic Leap was a superior device in many ways.
After Magic Leap it was time for lunch, before another round of experiences. I spent my lunch talking XR with developers, volunteers and people from different companies and university’s, including some people from Bose who were showing their new AR sound glasses.
These were interesting to try and quite effective, I tried a couple of different audio experiences. The glasses provided good audio presence but were a bit overpowered by background noise.
After Bose, I had some fun using the Oculus Go which has always been good for shorter sessions as it’s a bit front heavy like the Quest.
Oculus Go experiences included Anonymous, Playing God and Afterlife. This was pretty creepy showing the aftermath of a child’s death and it’s impact on remaining family members specifically the mother.
Go is still a great device for media consumption and 3DoF experiences especially when paired with good audio headphones. Its ideal for festivals being inexpensive and easy to deploy in volume.
Probably the strangest thing about going to immersive festivals is lifting off a headset to realise you are in a room full of people wearing headsets! It’s a bit odd to witness, and I had the thought that many headset owners would appreciate the opportunity to try the experiences and demos at home.
I spoke to the organisers and proposed an idea for the next festival; offer ticketed access so headset owners could participate online during the festival with time limited access to the different experiences.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Raindance Immersive Festival 2019, huge thanks to the organisers, the developers and hard working volunteers assisting the guests.
I heard that Raindance were holding an immersive festival in London at The Oxo Tower, right at the end of their month long film festival.
I managed to book an entire day’s worth of experiences before they sold out.
The festival had taken the entire first floor, providing a large long space ideal for multiple VR demos.
I arrived on the Sunday morning for opening and it quickly filled up with people eager to try their booked experiences.
Walking around I noticed many different experiences on offer across a wide variety of headsets.
A big draw of these festivals is the opportunity to try experiences and applications which are not generally available as home releases, or are exclusive to the festival.
A big draw for me was the World premiere of HTC’s “7 Miracles” on the Vive Focus; the second time I would get to use the Focus and the first opportunity to use it for any length of time.
I found my first experience which was “Transference” by Spectrevision which was super creepy in the Oculus Rift CV1; Spectrevision is partly owned by actor Elijah Wood who is apparently heavily into VR!
The HTC Vive Focus – 7 Miracles
I’d enjoyed using the Vive Focus briefly at the HTC launch event but only had 5 minutes of playtime so couldn’t get a sense of comfort.
One reason for booking the 7 Miracles demo was the offer of 1 hour and 20 minutes runtime, available in one sitting. The experience was extremely well put together and not overly religious (I do not practise any faith). I found the story effective, acting was excellent and you could tell some serious money had been spent on the production. The resolution of the headset was impressive compared to the Vive and Rift which I was more familiar with.
After about 30 minutes, I started feeling a bit uncomfortable in the headset, with pressure building on my forehead in the sinus area. I tried shifting the headset around which provided a temporary solution. The headset felt front heavy due to onboard compute, and the halo style band didn’t really work for my head shape. This left my forehead supporting the weight, after 45 minutes I started getting a mild headache, but struggled on to the end.
I thoroughly enjoyed the actual VR experience, but found the focus incompatible with my headshape; I would need to modify the face cushion or headstrap for it to work. Despite the seemingly plush looking face cushion, it didn’t have enough density to support the headset weight causing a hard plastic part to press through the cushion against my head.
I ended my morning session with a headache and sore forehead which was cured with some painkillers and a quick freshen up with warm water in the bathroom before taking an hour break for lunch.
Still, i was very glad to try it out and my afternoon session started with the comfortable Oculus Go, so no further headaches!
I had a great day at Raindance Immersive Festival, and thoroughly enjoyed the different experiences as well as getting to use a number of different Headsets.
It’s always great meeting new people in the immersive computing space, and getting to talk with them about their applications and experiences, and how people are receiving them.
Many thanks to the organisers and all the developers for bringing their applications and experiences to Raindance Immersive Festival.
Thanks for reading! Rob Cole, immersivecomputing.org
After earlier accepting an invite from my friend Callum to be on the discussion panel for “The Future of VR” at EGX 2018, I travelled by train to Birmingham’s NEC.
Having never been to EGX before, I wasn’t sure what was happening across the show, but was pleasantly surprised to find a good number of VR demos and experiences on offer.
Sony in particular had made a huge effort for PSVR with numerous demo booths and events occurring.
With several hours free until the panel discussion started I hit the show floor and set out to demo everything I could find.
It’s always a pleasure to use PSVR with its clear display, comfortable fit and wonderful software library, “The Persistence” was very impressive. Sony had a neat booth setup taking digital photos and giving out colour prints so I obliged!
After trying several PSVR demos I moved onto PCVR and found multiplayer game “Skyfront”.
Skyfront on the HTC Vive was great fun and very challenging. After talking to the developers I understood more about their development process and the difficulty of optimization for large maps.
Moving on, I found “Titanic VR” running on the Oculus Rift CV1 with a gamepad instead of Touch controllers.
The eyewitness scene in the lifeboat was unnerving and effective with some great character animation and voicework.
The ROV section gave a great feeling of presence, but started making me feel motion sick due to the disconnect between the ROV movement and my seated position; enjoyable to witness but good to know when to stop.
I then found an Oculus Go with a starfighter game (cannot remember the name) which was great fun and banished any feelings of motion sickness as I engaged in combat until I’d hogged the demo for too long!
Walking around the show I also found lots of simulator rigs being test driven with some very expensive and exotic setups as well as more affordable offerings.
After finding some lunch, I came back to the show with an hour to spare and wandered about looking at all the shiny stuff until I met this chap, legendary overclocker Ian “8 Pack” Parry.
Talking tech was interesting and he said he’d sort out a nice overclocked 8086K motherboard bundle if I got in touch with him at Overclockers.uk (I took him up on this offer a month later)
As usual, all kinds of ridiculous PC were on display showing off liquid cooling, RGB and custom modifications.
It was time to head over to the theatre where the discussion was taking place so I threaded my way back through the show watching many people having fun in VR.
“The future of VR” discussion started with a good number of people in the audience, and 3 other panel members including a prominent YouTuber, a VR specialist from The VR Concept and a Public Relations manager from Skyfront VR. Callum did a great job in hosting the event and keeping the discussion going forward as there was much to discuss.
I had a great day at EGX and made to check out some other VR experiences I’d missed before lunch; of course I had to go and look at the crazy PC’s again before getting a train home!
I’d made an online appointment to try the Oculus Rift CV1 again as I was looking to buy but wanted to check the fit and clarity.
After traveling across London to Westfield Shopping centre in Shepherds Bush I was disappointed that the rep from Oculus had failed to show up at the retail store that was hosting demos.
Whilst walking away I was pleasantly surprised to find a large Samsung marketing booth with numerous Samsung gadgets to play with.
Spotting a GearVR, I asked if a demo was available and was advised to go around the corner of the booth.
Walking around the corner, I found several people queuing for an impressive looking motion platform they were calling a “4D Experience”.
Samsung’s new Note9 was being used inside a GearVR, synced with the motion platform and running a chase camera style experience called “Volt : Future Racing”.
Strapped in using a waistbelt, I firmly gripped handles on my left and right as the demo was “energetic” to say the least. The VR was effective and looked great with the Note 9’s high resolution display.
Soon enough, my ride finished and I left the shopping centre happy to have tried something new and dynamic. I’ve used GearVR a number of times and found it comfortable and effective.
Samsung had a great experience here and it’s placement inside one of the UK’s busiest shopping centres was great news for VR, by giving people a thrilling taste whilst out shopping.
I heard through a contact that HTC were sponsoring a marketing event at Gameboxx Arena (Lost Rivers, Elephant and Castle) in South London.
After getting an invite I made my way there late afternoon and quickly found the venue which was being operated by The VR concept.
What I didn’t realize was HTC brought the first Vive Focus to the UK, and it was there to try, so I quickly got talking to the people from HTC to arrange a demo.
Getting to try the Vive Pro was very interesting as I’d previously owned a HTC Vive. The jump in resolution was immediately noticeable whilst the ergonomics of the new headset were a big improvement, whilst also being easy to fit and adjust. Audio was effective and easily blocked out background noise.
The HTC Vive Focus
I’d heard about the Vive Focus and seen all the product information that was available, the first standalone headset with 6DoF tracking, albeit using a single 3DoF motion controller similar to GearVR and Daydream.
The nice lady from HTC handed over the Focus which I quickly fitted and found myself in a strange football application with Chinese language. I managed to quit and found an application which had a rendered statue. I moved closer and around the statue revelling in the standalone freedom and accurate head tracking. Yep, it was very cool!
Huge thanks to HTC and The VR Concept for putting on a great evening. It was very interesting to try the Vive Pro and especially the Vive Focus. The staff were super friendly and everyone was hyped to try the new equipment and enjoy the football themed entertainment.
Thanks for reading! Rob Cole, immersivecomputing.org
All images copyright of Rob Cole unless otherwise stated.
After learning of a Holocaust exhibition in my local newspaper, I contacted the local synagogue that was hosting the exhibition.
“Eye as Witness” was based around an infamous photograph from the Nazi’s “Stroop Report” of World War 2. This report was a bound photo album created by General Stroop and presented to the Nazi top brass as a celebration of their “humane” clearance of the Warsaw ghettos.
The exhibition examined the use of propaganda to manipulate public opinion; in the case of the photograph above, a carefully selected image showing people sitting patiently on the kerbside whilst a soldier stands nearby, gun lowered, to imply no threat.
However, this was not the reality of the situation, and the exhibition had obtained other photographs taken by bystanders (soldiers) and eye witness accounts which showed a very different scenario as to what is seen in the photograph.
I arrived at the synagogue and was welcomed by staff, making my way downstairs I found the basement had been taken over by the exhibition, with 3 HTC Vive Pro Eye headsets running off wireless adapters and a photo exhibition behind the VR area. The lady running the event was very friendly and talked me through what was being shown.
After looking at the photo exhibition it was time to try the VR experience. A VR developer from the Mixed Reality laboratory of bNottingham university (who created the VR element in partnership with the organiser) helped fit the Vive Pro Eye onto my head, and encouraged me to walk forward “into” an image of the photograph being projected onto a curtain of cords.
In VR, I could see a recreation of the photograph in front of me, as I walked forward through the curtain I had a tactile sensation of the curtain’s cords moving across me as I breached a point where I was fully immersed inside the “photograph”.
Something the organisers had recommended was to “turn around” to see what was happening beyond the official propaganda photo of The Stroop Report.
As suggested, I turned around…and to my surprise saw soldiers with snarling dogs and raised machine guns pointing at the people sitting on the kerb. Behind the soldiers, the ghetto was burning. To my left, large trucks sat waiting to take these people to their deaths in the concentration camps.
The transition between the official photograph and the scene (as recreated from other photographs and eye witness accounts) was shocking, and very powerful. A real sense of threat and menace with no good outcome for the “prisoners” sitting on the kerb.
After my experience finished I spent time talking with the developer (Paul) and the hosts, who said a number of people had found it very emotional and were deeply affected by the exhibition.
VR can be very powerful when used for experiences like “Eye as Witness”, I’d like to thank the organisers, the developer and West Hampstead Synagogue for hosting the event. I certainly learned something I didn’t know anything about beforehand, and went away feeling I had witnessed something important.
The exhibition is doing a national tour so it may be possible to catch it at another venue, more information here: